Pentecost – Feast of Ecosystems and Ecospirits! ©
Thoughts on Pentecost Sunday, June 9, 2019
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
So I told my doctor that I read an article that one of the drugs I’m taking is on a list which, for my over 65 population, loses its efficacy over time. My doctor gave me a blank stare over my use of a four syllable word to advance my case to reduce my medications. He did not accept that as a reason to reduce my dosage or even – my plan all along – to eliminate it from my list of prescriptions.
Efficacy is about bang for the buck’. It’s about impact. In the context of medicine and science efficacy is a measure on graphs and spectrums of what works well for the purpose about which such use is intended. In the context of spirituality efficacy is about depth. When a word, or phrase, or a symbol strikes us deeply and helps us to gain in meaning and appreciation for an insight about carrying on a well-lived life, that experience is one of efficacy.
Words and language are efficacious when they are struggled over and actually mean something in terms of how we live our lives. And when meaning is lost and words start meaning something differently than when they were first used such meaning has little or no efficacy.
Take, for example, the word “church.” Today’s feast of Pentecost is referred to as the Birthday of the Church – the day of beginning, the day of impact. When the surface of this word “church” is scratched what is revealed is that the word has several meanings – possibly more bang for the buck. Church is institution, community, hierarchy speaks of church when referring to themselves. And, oh yes, there’s that thing about, “We Are Church.”
With so many meanings, and so many uses of the meanings, it may be instructive to look into original meanings of the word “church.” As we likely are all aware church is an English translation from the Latin word ecclesia, which in turn is a translation from the Greek word ekklesia. And how does our dictionary friend Miriam Webster define ekklesia? In the language of ancient Greece ekklesia is the description used for the assembly of the citizens of Athens who made democracy possible.
So, if you ever doubted that language, in itself, has power, or that those who determine language’s definitions and meanings have the most power look at this word that 2500 years ago meant democracy in action (limited though it was at the time) and that these days means hierarchical, authoritarian institution. One might argue that, even in church, order and authority are necessary. But let’s be clear that the language definers who translate this need into the primacy of hierarchy and authoritarianism have depleted the word of its punch.
What of other descriptors such as “Mystical Body” and “People of God?” Fifty to sixty years ago these were the very words that gave substance of how we defined church. Much storm and fury went into defining these terms in the middle of the last century at the time of Vatican Council II. To prove a point the big three French theologians, Danielou, de Lubac, and Congar were all held under suspicion by Pius XII and the Vatican bureaucrats. Congar and de Lubac were officially silenced.
One way to see the result of all that storm and fury over terms is to recognize that terms that have too many definitions and multiple views are, as I said, lacking in punch and losing in efficacy. People of God is a nice term to use in prayer. But as a description of who we are its meaning has become vanilla. It is my conviction, for example, that Jesus had no intention to found a church (especially in its current definition).
For a while now I have preferred the term that, to me, best captures the original meaning of ekklesia, and that is Gathering. Gathering automatically speaks of multiple people who are more or less equal. There is no fawning to a Great Leader or hierarchical order. And while it may harken back to an original meaning it certainly no longer indicates a gathering of the all male property holders of Athens. Apparently, Gathering has a certain impact. I’m intrigued, for example, by the original meanings and derivations of the word, Milwaukee. Did you know that Milwaukee is derived, in part, from the Potawatomi word minwaking, which means to gather by the water? Yes, Gathering is a word and a descriptor that has bang in its buck. It has efficacy.
What serves the efficacy of Gathering in Christ any better than the term ecosystem? The definition of ecosystem is the interconnection between living and nonliving entities for the flourishing, thriving and sustaining of life. No outside, unconnected force has a role to play in the growth of free and interdependent conditions that make the life of all in the ecosystem become what their original purpose is.
On this Birthday of those who are the Gathering in Christ I would like to call your attention to Jesus’ teaching on ecosystem. In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus advises us to see the birds and consider the wildflowers. These neither reap nor sow, neither receive direction from some outside authority nor grow in a way that denies the truth of each one’s existence.
Here’s an example of what I think such a spiritual ecosystem is based on. These days – especially with the wet spring we have had – drive on country Wisconsin roads and see the wild phlox in all its purple and white flurry of growth and splendor. It is a spectacle of freedom in the ditch – just where the phlox thrives and sustains itself. The Gathering of Jesus’s followers can learn greatly this lesson of the interconnection of entities whose purpose is to let life thrive.
Ecospirit is the reality that drives each one of us to our depth, the source of our truest selves. Sometimes this spirit moves us to be a better self and reminds us of the love, forgiveness, and reconciliation that is the way of Christ. Recently, I heard the story of a retired bishop who learned the lesson of ecospirit. He rose in the ranks of clerical power and asserted it widely because on the way up he had convinced himself that his vision was the correct vision, especially in the 16 years when he was Provincial and the General Superior of his religious community. Along the way this arrogance led him to expel a community of 5 members of the order; a reality that was damaging, negative and caused alienations between him and these individuals for close to 40 years. The bishop, at the end of his life, contacted the 5 men and asked to meet with them as a group. This was a terribly difficult gathering to make happen. But happen it did with much grace needed (one might say resorting to efficacy). He apologized in person, face-to-face to each one for his blind belief in his own vision.
Here’s the thing. When they asked him what had made him change to seek reconciliation with them he revealed his own personal ecospirit of depth. He told them the people of his diocese had changed him. It took the real, down to earth, poor and marginalized lives of the people whom he thought he would “save” but who totally saved him. This is ecospirit in its depth.
It is the truth of just such interconnections and interpersonal encounters which give hope to the Gathering of Jesus’ Followers on this Pentecost Day. We claim quite freely and resourcefully the Spirit whose fire is in our hearts in order to share. The Spirit’s gifts these days are ecosystems and ecospirits. They are why “church” will never be the same.
A Prayer (JR)
Send us, Holy Spirit of Fire, gifts without number, gifts that inspire, inflame, and sustain us. We gather here to claim wisdom that emboldens us for a future where all people are free and equal, where your creation—living and non-living—is sustained, and where we sacrifice our present selves on behalf of a future in which all thrive.
In this way, Holy Spirit, ecosystems and ecospirits will survive to explore your other gifts—the stars. All praise to she who is wisdom and spirit alive in us and among us. Amen.